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Invisible Differences, Visible Success

This is another tour de force from Neil, bringing an insider's eye to understanding the complexity of hidden handicaps, in a compelling series of vignettes that will grab the readers' attention throughout.  

Professor Angela Fawcett, Emeritus Professor of Psychology,

Sheffield University, UK

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In this revealing book, the author Neil Alexander Passe, explores the impact of hidden handicaps on successful adults, including in this book the usual range of learning difficulties, plus a number of medical conditions which inevitably make it more challenging to achieve success.  The voice of the successful adult, their trials, tribulations and triumphs come through very clearly, building on the structured interview the author has devised. The format, a scholarly explanation of each condition, accompanied by the manifestations at each stage in life, is particularly effective. The insights are enriched by the author's own experience of struggling with dyslexia and stammering, which reminded me forcibly of my own son and his struggle to overcome his difficulties.  I particularly liked the sketches of the participants, and the suggestions for future generations.  This mixture of hardship, rejection, uncertainty, resilience, and strategy use, in order to find success through the appropriate niche in life, will be familiar to all those with hidden disabilities, and here that rich understanding can be shared with every reader.  The bi-ability model  provides a novel explanation for these patterns of processing that lead to both strengths and weaknesses. This is another tour de force from Neil, bringing an insider's eye to understanding the complexity of hidden handicaps, in a compelling series of vignettes that will grab the readers' attention throughout.  


Processor Angela Fawcett

Emeritus Professor of Pasycholgy, Shefield University, UK


For the last 20 years commentators have begun to question the validity of the “Social Model of Disability”, and there is now space to develop a new model for those with hidden/invisible disabilities, who in fact out number those with visible disabilities.


This book develops the “Bi-ability Model” (Valeras, 2010) to better understand it’s viability to challenge the “Social Model of disability” (1972), as an outdated concept describing all those with disabilities. It is argued that the Social Model is too focussed on physical impairments/physical environmental barriers, and does not truly describe the barriers faced by those with hidden/invisible impairments in modern society (at school, at university, in the workplace, and socially).


The author has interviewed many very successful individuals with a range of hidden/invisible disabilities (e.g. dyslexia, Type 1 diabetes, Autism, ADHD, Epilepsy, Profoundly deaf, ME, bipolar depression and fibromyalgia), some having more than two disabilities, to develop greater understanding of their lives, and their keys for success.


This book will look at the “Bi-ability Model’ and how it offers a better way to understand their ability to develop highly successful careers through a range of strategies (e.g. passing) whilst rejecting a disability identity.

I was looking forward to reading this book, it has a curious title that immediately challenges the dominant view medical view of disability in our society. I was not disappointed, Neil has created a very readable book that is easily accessible to the non-specialist reader, yet it is research informed and it presents a more positive alternative view of individual differences. I liked the way Neil takes the reader by the hand and leads then through territory that is laden with values and complexities towards a clear path based upon the bi-ability model.


The book goes through a wide range of conditions by detailing a series of challenges and then reconsidering the condition through a number of success factors that the condition provides to the individual. This is supported by inspiring case studies of successful individuals that Neil has interviewed. This ensures that the book lives up to its title of describing ‘individual differences’ and then telling of ‘visible success’.


The discussion chapter pulls together common themes that arose for each interview question and Neil shares some of his own reflections at this point. This works well and I could hear my own inner voice commenting in response, especially to the tricky question of whether or not to disclose a hidden disability when requested on forms. The conclusion chapter returns to provide a more explicit discussion of the bi-able model.


This is an interesting book that successfully replaces the deficit view of disability with a more promising and optimistic perspective, through the use of inspirational shared personal stories from successful people who have invisible differences. In doing so, it champions changes that are need in schools and the workplace that would lead to a more inclusive society. As such, this is a book that I will use with my undergraduate psychology students to enable them to see difference in a more positive way. It is also a book that I would recommend for professionals who work with people that society defines as being different from the norm.


Prof Garry Squires

Professor in Educational Psychology,

Special Educational Needs and Inclusion

Invisible Differences, Visible Success is an insightful book that presents the biographical life stories of 13 people with a range of hidden disabilities. Neil Alexander-Passe positions himself as an insider, a scholar with dyslexia and a stammer/speech impediment, in an attempt to empathise with the experiences of his research participants. This book adds to existing literature that demonstrates the importance of disabled people conducting and coproducing research on the topic of disability. The book presents a clear and accessible text which will be particularly useful to practitioners, parents, and disabled activists. Alexander-Passe should be commended for bringing to life the lived experiences of people with hidden disabilities. The book presents the life stories of participants that have a range of hidden ‘impairments’ including, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), autism/Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar, epilepsy and diabetes. Participants were selected because of their lifetime achievements and successes in the fields of medicine, technology, education, law, public services, and entrepreneurship. Each chapter presents an accessible breakdown of each condition before continuing into the life stories of every participant.  What is interesting about the book is the similarities between early childhood experiences and their pathways into successful professional careers. The book moves beyond a deficit approach of hidden disabilities and rather than predominantly focusing on discrimination, exclusion, and failure, Alexander-Passe presents stories of achievement, success, and resilience. This book offers a refreshing take on hidden disabilities by changing the dominant narrative of failure to that of success. Alexander-Passe lays the foundation of the bio-ability model to conceptualise the lived experiences of his participants by arguing that we need to move beyond notions of ‘disability’ and ‘ability’ to that of ‘difference’ and ‘variation’. Therefore, the book offers insights into understanding the unique aspects of having a hidden disability in the 21st-century and what impact this has on people’s life journeys and their identities. I think this is a must-read for any parent or adult who has recently been diagnosed with a hidden disability as this book offers a perceptive account of success and celebration rather than a deficit interpretation of struggle and failure which unfortunately still prevails in many professional practices.


Professor Stephen J Macdonald, Department of Sociology, Durham University, UK 

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Dr Alexander-Passe, based in London (UK), is a well-respected author investigating emotional coping in those with dyslexia. He is the head of the Student Support Unit (SSU) at an OFSTED rated ‘outstanding’ state secondary school, and an expert special educational needs advisor to the UK’s Department of Education. He is dyslexic himself, so writes from both professional and personal experience.

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